Saturday, December 31, 2016

Notes from a Year Named Thrive: Epilogue

Thrive was a word picked in a dark, cold time—something to give me the strength to keep pushing forward. To throw myself, perhaps defiantly, into the future. At the end of 2015, I was scared and exhausted and I didn't know what came next. The year had not been easy and while it was full of growth and learning, it had also not gone the way I expected.

I can't stay where I am, I thought on Dec 31. It's not good for me. And thrive was not just surviving, it was doing well even when surrounded by harsh conditions. It was doing what I had to do to do well. 

None of us have the delusion that 2016 was a year without hardship, but here are some of the things I accomplished:

1. I finished a draft, and RJ Anderson provided great feedback that I implemented to revise the draft. This is the closest I've been in years to being genuinely ready to return to publishing. While that's an ongoing thing I have to decide how I feel about, it's good to have the option again. Kate and others offered support and encouragement—I couldn't make attending a workshop or a retreat work, but they let me know the options existed.

2. I spent more time with my friends. Michele and I went to the Symphony twice. Bianca and Jason joyfully spoiled me forever with an introduction to the Cineplex VIP Theatres. Jenn was always ready to offer a place for the weekend or stop by for crepes. I still got to see Nat, Trev, Kate, Tina, and Carol. Angel and Ardo invited me to the Read Harder Book Club they host for Book Riot, which helped me reconnect with the book blogger community in new ways.

3. I got to see really great things happen for people I know—marriage, New York Times Bestseller lists, Hamilton, return to school, new jobs and ventures. Friends pushed forward right alongside me as our lives took us all in different directions.

4. I got a job. It took me to Florida for the first time ever, and reminded me of how much I miss palm trees. It took me to Vancouver for the first time in years, and I finally got to spend an afternoon in Stanley Park.

5. To thrive you have to have a good foundation of support, because someone or something had to teach you to believe you can keep going, be ok, and do better. This is the year I really came to appreciate the love and faith that my family has always provided me (even when imperfect) as I witnessed the lasting damage growing up without it can do.

6. I started the year with an Oh Wonder concert, added in BLAJK & Banners!, and saw Bastille play their second album all the way through live in October.

7. I moved to The Junction—with a lot of help from Trev. Getting to stay in the nighbourhood kept me close to friends and the part of Toronto that I love. Living on my own isn't always easy, but it has been the right thing for me at this time. Being able to make my own choices and feel agency again also significantly contributed to me doing better this year.

8. Getting to embrace loving pop culture again. Whether it was livetweeting the Robbie Amell, Jason Isaacs, Hayley Atwell, and FXV Flash panels or high-fiving a pikachu in Vancouver. I was in the photo pit for the FantasticBeastsTO event, and got to confirm that Eddie Redmayne's face is that fancy IRL. These are not things I would have expected to be part of my life, and it's really mattered to be around people with enthusiasm.

9. I started writing something new. I fought it for most of the year, but I found where it begins and I trust I will follow it through to its end.

10. Started thinking about what comes next. Thinking about the future and having things to look forward to, goals and rewards, is so vital. My world was shook to its foundations earlier this year, and many of the plans I had made ceased to be viable. I didn't want to stop, but I realized I was going and going and going... without really understanding where that would put me. I had let someone else have too much control over my life and my decisions—because it felt safest for us all to let that person have control.

I suppose what I learned from a year named Thrive is the importance of self-determination. We have to understand that we're all making choices, good and bad, and try to do the best we can. We have to want to keep making choices, keep finding solutions, and keep accomplishing goals.

When something breaks or leaves or ends, we have to find things and ways to keep us going. Hold them close. Let them illuminate the path, step by step, towards where we go next. All the while hoping for bigger and better.

I used to know someone who thought it was beneficial to ask what was the worst that could happen. It was meant to help get over the fear of doing things, and while it does work to some extent, it's never motivated me to focus on the worst. It motivates me to strive for the best.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: Holidays

We did our last show of the year yesterday, a one-day holiday event focused on exhibitors and shopping. It was the one that the team felt was the least amount of work, and the one that I felt most comfortable doing.

There's an ebb and flow, a rhythm, to social media for most businesses that isn't the same as the rhythm of this job. It's objectively neither good nor bad—it's just different. Holiday being the busy go-go-go time is something that still feels most natural to me.

I love the holidays. I love peppermint mochas, and Christmas trees lit with lights visible in windows, and the wonder that's imbued when it snows lightly in December. I love the quest for finding a friend's gift within the challenges of a small budget and where I happen to be shopping. I love that many people feel buoyant and prone to being a little bit gentler to strangers.

People both suck the most and the least during December. It's an annual paradox, and I find it as traditionally comforting as carols piped in to most public spaces. It's not everyone's experience of December, but it's mine—and having had to go without it, I know how important it is to my well-being.

I decorate for the holidays every year. Something simple and contained, because until now I lived in shared spaces and not everyone I shared those spaces with had a positive feeling about the holidays. This year I had planned to buy a tree—a small tree. When December arrived and I still hadn't bought the tree, I started having concerns about it for the two weeks that I'm not here. So earlier this week I bought a wreath of fir boughs, after having to walk four blocks to find a cash machine, and then walked home for twenty-five minutes carrying it. (So it's a good thing I didn't get a tree.)

My year first in Toronto, I went to Crate & Barrel (yes, I'm aware of my middle class aspirations) and I bought a not-obviously-Christmas garland. I've hung it various places: across a railing, over a bookshelf, and over the same bookshelf in a different apartment. This year I wrapped it around the wreath, stepped back, and thought oh, that's where that was meant to go.

It felt amazing to, for the first time in years, use something the way it was intended to be used because I have the financial ability and personal agency over my living space. Just a moment, a pause, in the riot and political turmoil of this year to feel accomplished. To feel like I was in the right place and again capable of continuing to find that right space.

When I name a year, I learn something about the word. Last year I learned that kindness is something no one is entitled to—it's a choice that I make. No one can demand it from me, and I can't expect it to be automatically given by others. This year, I am learning that to thrive is to carve out a good space in a bad environment. To find the moments of calm that create stability when the world feels relentlessly chaotic. Success at either of those things varies, but they are good things to learn.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Spindle by E.K. Johnston

It's December; the nights are a little longer and a little colder, and if you're feeling a little weary of 2016 then E.K. Johnston's Spindle will be a literary balm for your soul. It's written in a lush style that evokes its fantastical world without getting in the way of its story. It's tight and well-paced—you could read it in a day if you choose.

The simplest summary of Spindle, a companion novel to last year's A Thousand Nights, is that it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But most of us western readers have a notion of what a retelling of Sleeping Beauty would be like, and Spindle is so much more than that. This is a tale containing a princess who steals herself, a hunt for magical creatures, and a roadtrip done completely by walking.

Because, in truth, Spindle is a book about consequences that fearlessly valourizes kindness. It has more in common with Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor and Tessa Gratton's The Apple Throne than Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

You don't have to have read A Thousand Nights—what you need to know is sprinkled through Spindle to make it completely accessible to new readers. You could even read Spindle first and then read A Thousand Nights after. They're both contained stories on their own, but Spindle is the consequences of A Thousand Nights.

In A Thousand Nights we met creatures incapable of creating, who fed on those who could. Craft—the act of creating—has power in these books. Spindle does explore the power of craft being turned against creators, but adds in another layer of looking at the danger of not creating when you have the power to. Spindle believes the consequences of craft—regardless of what they might be—are worth it. Because Spindle believes when we are creating—actively telling our own story—we are most alive.

Imagine, for a moment, that any act of creation primed you to become the ideal vessel for a malevolent creature. Be it cooking a meal or braiding your hair or sewing a stitch. Any making would eventually unmake you.

Imagine being so capable, your capacity to learn so expansive, that you could master skills immediately. A superpower of sorts, but one that existed to speed up the transition of you losing yourself.

Imagine being cursed with the knowledge that your entire life was intended to prepare you to be a tool for someone else.

What that sounds like is the bleakest book you will read this year—and in Johnston's hands it becomes a story of four people who love each other so much. Who support each other and hope and try. Who bravely live in the shadow of consequences.

It's wonderful to have a story with an asexual narrator, and it's wonderful to see a brave, intelligent, powerful young woman of colour taking control of her own narrative. But in this garbagefire of year, a book that tells you it's worth it to try and hope and fight and do what little things you can to hold out against the bleakness is more than wonderful—it's vital.

Like any fairytale, no one in this book who is kind goes unrewarded for it; no one who is unnecessarily cruel goes unpunished. Maybe that errs on the side of hopeful, but it's the season of hope. Pick Spindle up, settled down, and give yourself a little vacation from the world. You'll come back better from it.